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Development next for closed Brandywine Country Club, councilman says

Xerxes Wilson and Brittany Horn, The News Journal 9:03 p.m. EDT October 16, 2015

A proposal to build homes on the Brandywine Country Club's 111-acre parcel is expected to be filed this winter after the club ceased operations Thursday, according to New Castle County Councilman Bob Weiner.

Developer Louis Capano III recently pitched residential concepts for the property at a recent meeting with New Castle County Land Use officials, Weiner and Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred President Bob Valihura. Weiner said he is working to schedule a public meeting for the developer to present the plans before the end of the year.

The 18-hole course opened 70 years ago. A recording on the club's phone system said Friday that "as of Oct. 15, 2015, operations have ceased."

Situated on the second-largest plot of open space in Brandywine Hundred, the club's future has been one of the community's primary concerns since Capano purchased the property, which stretches from Shipley Road to Concord Pike, in 2012.

"The community has great concerns about the traffic impact and the aesthetic concerns about architectural excellence and quality of design of the ground surrounding the proposal and the proposal itself," Weiner said.

The property is zoned for residential development. The developer could seek a rezoning depending on what mix of apartments, homes or condos the developer seeks, Weiner said. The concepts discussed at the meeting were all residential.

"We made it clear we would not support any non-residential uses," Weiner said.

Weiner said he has requested Capano get feedback from the community before the plans are filed with New Castle County.

Officials with owner Capano Management Co. did not immediately returns messages left Friday.

With open space rare in northern New Castle County, multiple golf course owners are looking to cash in on the development potential for their property. The Newark Country Club is fighting with Newark city officials about future development of its 120-acre property. Residents in the Churchmans Marsh area have railed against a proposal to build 525 homes and nearly 379,000 square feet of commercial space on the 145-acre Cavaliers Country Club.

In May, The News Journal reported how deed restrictions barring development on roughly half of the 525-acre DuPont Country Club property, the largest piece of open space in Brandywine Hundred, were quietly lifted in 2008. The club's future has been called to question during recent wars within the DuPont Co.

New Castle County Council has introduced legislation to create a new open space zoning category that could be applied to large pieces of open space, like golf courses, to prevent development. Weiner said that legislation is unlikely to take hold before plans to develop the Brandywine Country Club are formalized.

A 2014 family membership at the Brandywine Country Club was listed at $4,500 for unlimited use of the golf course, driving range, swimming pool and tennis courts, as well as USGA handicaps, two lockers and club storage. Previous interviews with Capano indicated the country club was struggling before he bought the property, as was the case for many private clubs around the United States.

"The closure of the Brandywine Country Club is part of a nationwide pattern brought about by the fact that folks have less time to play golf and less extra dollars to play golf and the millennials don't play golf," Weiner said.

George McNamara, who served as the club's golf pro for 29 years, said at its prime, Brandywine was a beautiful place with "a whole bunch of great members."

"The club was really special," he said. "And then they sold it to Capano and it had really gone downhill."

McNamara left the country club in December, as he said the future of the property became more and more clear. With dwindling numbers, he said the golf course had essentially become public and few people spent much time there.

Though he no longer worked at the country club, McNamara said he spoke to a former colleague who said employees received little notice of the closure. McNamara said he wasn't surprised.

"It's just sad," he said. "Brandywine is a place. It's a piece of land and a building, but the people really made it what it was."

Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or on Twitter @ber_xerxes. Contact Brittany Horn at (302) 324-2771, or on Twitter at @brittanyhorn.

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